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Imagine an alternative version of Pop Idol where, rather than selecting wannabes as potential stars, audiences were invited to design their own groups using whatever format they chose. It=s doubtful whether anyone, in a googolplex of years, would have come up with Flook - and more=s the pity! For those not in the know, Flook=s highly successful recipe starts with the dextrous Breton, Indian and jazz influenced traditional Irish flutes and whistles of Brian Finnegan and adds the essential harmonic ingredient of the former Barely Works and Big Jig flute player and accordionist, Sarah Allen. Next stir in the dynamic guitar of Ed Boyd and, to cap it all, add more than a soupçon of the stunning bodhrán player, John Joe Kelly.
The resulting blend came to marvellous fruition on the band=s first studio album, Flatfish, and now Rubai extends their development as one of the most innovative and sheer exhilarating outfits around. While Flatfish was characterised in many ways by the effervescent Happy Jigs, Rubai (Aa four-line poem in perfect rhyme@) builds upon their expertise and almost symbiotic playing to conjure up a new box of magical tricks whose effects are emphasised by Mark Tucker=s skilful recording. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the adjacent tracks Glass Polska, a blithe air, and the controlled frenzy of Hooper=s Loop/Pressed for Time. At times, as on Ballybrolly Jigs, flutes and guitar combine in percussive effect strangely reminiscent of Billy Cobham=s Spectrum album. At others, such as Sarah=s tune Granny in the Attic, where Rory McLeod adds resonant trombone, there=s the redolence of a Sunday afternoon Arcadian gambol. Beautifully packaged like its predecessor, this is already one of the essential albums of 2002.
Flatfish 005CD; 42 minutes; 2005
As audiences in places both near and far-flung well know, a Flook gig is a mighty affair, a gusty feast of flutes and whistles, backed by a guitar/bodhrán pairing for whom the term ‘rhythm section’ isn’t just disparaging, but downright derogatory. Haven is the band’s third studio album and instantly recognisable as such thanks to Guy Jackson’s now hallmark design and that wonderfully imaginative instrumental blend which still takes (often, but not always) Irish traditional music as its launching pad and sends it soaring stratospherically.
It’s hard to credit, but Flook’s career on the road now spans a decade and, though Mike McGoldrick is long gone, the band’s constituents have since remained unchanged, at least in terms of personnel, over three studio albums. Brian Finnegan's flutes and whistles stay central to the melodic equation, reinforced gorgeously and harmonically by Sarah Allen’s usually lower-register flutes and occasional accordion, while Ed Boyd’s guitar and John Joe Kelly’s bodhrán don’t so much drive the band’s music down the road, but suggest intriguing byways ready for exploration.
Such fruition is wholeheartedly achieved on the floorboard-thumping Asturian Way and the perky Mouse Jigs (Can any band play jigs better than Flook? I think not), while Wrong Foot Forward, as its title suggests, simply defies musical expectancies.
Gloriously, often thrillingly arranged, ever adroit and with tunes sometimes incorporating more twists than the entire recording career of Chubby Checker, Haven isn’t just a complete bundle of fun, but thoroughly life-enhancing music.
These reviews by Geoff Wallis were originally written for Songlines magazine – www.songlines.co.uk.
For more information about Flook visit www.flook.co.uk.